How Deadly Are ‘Kissing Bugs’ Really?

Reports say dangerous 'kissing bug' spreads to over half the U.S.
November 25, 2015 4:38 pm Last Updated: November 25, 2015 4:55 pm

A doctor with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that people probably should not worry about reports of bites from “kissing bugs.”

There have been reports saying that the bugs, known to carry a parasite that can cause Chagas disease, are in Georgia and other southern U.S. states. However, the bugs have had a presence in the U.S. since the 19th century. 

CDC
Where “kissing bugs” are found in the US. (CDC.gov)

According to Time magazine, the blood-sucking insects that tend to feed on the faces of victims–hence the name “kissing bug”–have been reported in Alabama, Georgia, and even California in recent weeks. 

Dr. Susan Montgomery, the epidemiology team leader in the parasitic diseases branch of the CDC, told the New York Times on Nov. 25 that a sighting of a kissing bug “would not be news.” She said the sensationalist reports are “referring to information that we have had on our website for five years now.”

People can live for years without knowing they have Chagas. And around 30 percent of people infected with the disease can develop serious heart disease.

Also, there’s only been around 30 reported cases of people getting the disease in the U.S. since the 1950s, the CDC says.

Another expert, Sarah Hamer the assistant professor of epidemiology at Texas A&M’s veterinary and biomedical school, said people shouldn’t be too worried.

She told CNN: “It’s great we are heightening our awareness — but we don’t need to be terribly scared.”

Hamer said that it’s rare for people to get Chagas.

“The bug has to be there, blood feed, and the parasite needs to be rubbed in, and that’s a lot to have to happen…it’s more rare for kissing bugs to feed on people than mosquitos to feed on people,” she explained.

Studies have noted that there is only around one case of Chagas for every 900-4,000 contacts with parasite-infected kissing bugs, CNN reported. Those infected with the disease can experience flu-like symptoms including fever, fatigue, body aches, vomiting, and a loss of appetite.

CDC.gov
(CDC.gov)

However, if you see kissing bugs, known as triatomine bugs, don’t touch or squash it, but place a container on top of it and bring it to a local expert, the CDC recommends.

The CDC estimates that some 300,000 people with Chagas disease live in the U.S.

According to the CDC, this is where kissing bugs are found:

“Triatomine bugs (also called reduviid bugs, ‘kissing’ bugs, assassin bugs, cone-nosed bugs, and blood suckers) can live indoors, in cracks and holes of substandard housing, or in a variety of outdoor settings including:

  • Beneath porches
  • Between rocky structures
  • Under cement
  • In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
  • In rodent nests or animal burrows
  • In outdoor dog houses or kennels
  • In chicken coops or houses

They are typically found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America (as far south as southern Argentina). The map below details triatomine occurrence by U.S. state.”